transcribed by Satoru Tagawa
Contrabass Convervations Episode 20
Interview with Lawrence Hurst and Daxun Zhang
Hi folks, welcome to the Contrabass Conversations, your weekly podcast about the life in the low end of the spectrum.
I’m your host, Jason Heath, and as always, you can contact us here at Contrabass Conversations by dialing 206-666-6509.
You can also email us at email@example.com, visit our website at contrabassconversations.com, head on over to my blog at doublebassblog.com, visit us on myspace at myspace.com/cbcpodcast, or get some hats, t-shirt and other contrabass conversations swag at cafepress.com/doublebass
I’m sure listeners are noticing the new theme song for the episode today.
This is a recording that double bassist Eric Hochberg and I did recently, and I think it’s a really good idea to feature some double bass recording for the theme song rather than the little electric bass.
I like the little lick, but, you know, it’s a lot more appropriate, and it’s a really cool little track.
This is, I’m playing arco on this track, and Eric Hochberg is playing pizzicato, and Eric is actually going to be the interview guest for next week’s podcast.
He’s a jazz bass player based in the Chicago area, and he’s played with ton of people, you know, ranging from Pat Metheny, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Freego, and … the list goes on and on.
So we did a great interview, and I think you’re going to really get a lot out of our episode next week featuring Eric Hochberg.
Thanks everybody for the positive feedback with our interview with lyric opera of Chicago bassist Greg Sarchet last week.
It was really a lot of fun to do, great episode, and you’re going to be hearing the 2nd part of that in a few weeks here.
The 2nd part is really different than the 1st.
We actually were at this Bosnian restaurant when we were doing this interview, and the pizza came, and so we had to have some pizza.
And you know, it’s actually quite fitting to interview a bunch of double bass players.
Having a bunch of double bass players sitting around the table, just chatting bass and eating pizza.
I gotta tell you, I’ve been playing bass for a long time, and there’s a lot of just eating pizza and talking in the bass community.
Very fitting, lots of fun, and you’ll be hearing that soon.
We also had a great response to Catalin Rotaru’s playing from last week.
What a fantastic player.
I’ve known Catalin for a long time; he taught at the sister school along with me at the University of Wisconsin system
Great player, fantastic musician, great guy, and hopefully, you’ll be hearing some more of Catalin in the future.
We’d also love to have him on the show as an interview guest, so we’ll be looking into that, and you can just stay tune to the podcast to find out more details about that
We’re also going to be doing our first double bass jazz interview this week.
It’ll be with double bassist Eric Hochberg, and I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating interview.
This will probably be coming out in a couple of weeks from now, and I’m really looking forward to getting some different perspective beside the classical perspective.
I love the classical perspective, I mean I’m a classical player myself, predominantly, almost totally, but I’m really looking forward to getting some different viewpoints beside the classical one on this show.
Just a couple of quick news item before we get going here.
I was featured in the most recent installment of the Double Bassist magazine, in an article called “Poducation”.
It was an interview I did with one of the writers for Double Bassist magazine, just talking about this new media, and it was a lot of fun.
I like the title “Poducation”. I am the poducater, you cannot resist the double bass podcast.
Today’s guest is IU bass professor Lawrence Hurst, and I’m really thrilled to be able to put this interview.
It was a great interview, and it was actually cohosted by double bassist John Grillo.
You’ve heard John on the podcast many times. He’s actually done 4 episodes now.
He was on episode 6,9,14, and we also put out his recital showcase back in feb, 2007.
John was Mr. Hurst’s student at IU for his undergrad degree, and it was really neat.
He had some good questions and commentary and that sort of thing that really spiced up the interview.
He made it very interesting.
I think you’ll really enjoy this very, very interesting interview with double bassist Lawrence Hurst.
A little background info about Mr. Hurst.
He was the former Principle double bass for the Dallas Symphony, and he is also former faculty member of Southern Methodist and Eastern Michigan University, as well as former faculty member associate Dean and Chair of the string dept at the University of Michigan school of music.
Mr. Hurst is the former director of the University division of the National Music Camp, and a summer faculty member at the Interlochen Arts Camp, and I think he has been at Interlochen for 40 years now.
He’s also been the chair of the IU strings dept for the past 19 years, I believe.
He’s also past chair of the ASTS, National Solo Competition, and he’s the past pres of the ISB
So he’s a pivotal figure in the world of double bass, and it was such a pleasure to be able to sit down and do this interview with him
So you’ll be hearing double bassist John Grillo and myself interviewing Lawrence Hurst this week.
I think you’ll really enjoy it.
After the interview today, we’ll be featuring a track from double bassist Daxun Zhang
Daxun is the double bass instructor at Northwestern University right now, and he’s just a phenomenol player, and he also happen to be a former student of Mr. Hurst, which really ties in the episode pretty well today.
So I think you’ll really enjoy this track from Daxun as well as the interview with Mr. Hurst.
JH: Well, I’d like to welcome Lawrence Hurst to CBC. Thank you so much Mr. Hurst for agreeing to be on this program.
LH: Oh it’s my pleasure.
JH: And, why don’t you folks what your first instrument was.
LH: Well, my first instrument was the piano accordian, and I started that at age 4. And it was chosen for me; I didn’t know what I was getting into.
My father always wanted to play the accordion, so he took me down to the local music store, and he says, “Here, you want to play this, don’t you?” And he strapped it on me. So the first one I had was little 12 bass accordion. They measure accordion by how many basses they have. I think that was kind of had an omen to it, didn’t it?
JH: Do you still keep up the accordion, or how long did you play it?
LH: No,no, it’s been years. Years and years
JH: And, when did you start playing the bass?
LH: I think I was 13 or so. Maybe 12.5, something like that. Actually, I started on the cello. My mother gave me a recording of Toscanini conducting the NBC symphony with the Beethoven 2nd and the 4th symphonies on it. She just didn’t know anything about… my family was totally… I guess you would say musically illiterate. My father always said it was difficult for him to even play the radio, so. But they had love for music, all kinds of music, but. My mother sensed that Lady of Spain and Nola wasn’t cutting it for me. So she went out and bought a classical recording, the first one that I had heard, and it was such a winner that, I had to go play a string instrument, so my first instrument actually was a cello. And I played that for about 2 or 3 months until my father got the rental bill from the school. And he said, “Look, I can’t do that, b/c you’re taking 2 lessons a week on the accordion”, b/c I was still playing the accordion then. And he said “Find an instrument that doesn’t cost anything.” So I went to the orchestra director the next day, and he said, “Well, we have a bass here.” And that’s how it all started.
JH: Now, how long did you play the bass before you decided that you want to pursue a music career?
LH: Well actually, I had, um… By the time I was in high school, I had played an awful lot of accordion, and pretty much, music had chosen me by that time; I couldn’t imagine life without music. So the bass was just a natural extension of being in the business. And at that particular time, there was a teacher that moved to the… I grew up in Northbrook, Virginia, that’s my hometown. And a fellow moved into town from the Boston area, and had studied with Anselme Fortier, very well-known principle of the NY Phil for twenty-something years. And he completely changed everything; the minute I heard his sound, I had to play like that. So that’s how I really, started committing, totally, to the bass.
JH: Now, where did you do your studies on the bass, for University?
LH: Well, I went right to Michigan. I had more or less an academic scholarship to the University of Michigan, curiously enough from General Motors. So I was able to go to the University of Michigan, and I met, for the first time, Clyde Thompson, who was my teacher, probably for 4-5 years. I did most of my masters with him as well later on. And Clyde was very influential in my whole development both as a musician and as a bass player. Clyde had been in the Pittsburgh Symphony with Reiner, so he had a wonderful background, and very orchestral-oriented. And curiously enough, had also studied with Anselme Fortier in New York when he was there. I hate to think of what the chances of that kind of thing happening. There was a great deal of continuity between the 2 teachers, obviously, so that helped a great deal.
JH: Once you finished your studies in Michigan, what was your first professional playing experience? Did you go right down to the Dallas Symphony?
LH: Well, no. In those days, we were still being conscripted. This was right at the end of the Korean War. So all men were conscripted right out of school, particularly since I was from Northern Virginia, which is a big military city. Lots of navy, lots air force, etc. The minute I graduated, I was conducted, and in those days, if you saw it coming, you could write a lot of letters and get into the 7th army symphony in Europe, which I did. And, although I did 2 tours of basic training, I was able to get to Europe for 2 years, where I played with the 7th army symphony, which was a fantastic group. They were all young, professionals basically. It was a propaganda unit. This was about 15 or so after the 2nd World War, and we were stationed in Stuttgart, so there were still a lot of things to do there that would show that Americans were very cultural, and one was to have a conscripted army orchestra that toured all around Germany, France, Italy and so force, which we did. We played… most of the times we would play about 125 concerts per year. And all of it on the road, so it was a wonderful, super-learning experience. And many of the guys, coming out of that orchestra, it’s sort of like what New World is like today. It’s a great training grounds, and everyone was geared to getting gigs once they were out.
JH: It would be interesting to see who ended up where out of that orchestra.
LH: Oh I could tell you a lot of them. One of them was 1st horn player in NY Phil for years, cellist with the Met, they are all over the place. I think there were about 600 or so that went through that orchestra in 10 or 12 years. So it was a wonderful experience. In fact, I played for Solti for the principle job in Dallas, when he was hired by the Dallas Symphony while he was still the head director of the Frankfurt Opera House. And, I’ll never forget. I had about 10 minutes with him to audition for the job, which was open at the time. And I walked in and played. At the time, the big piece was the Eccles Sonata. He sat down and, without score, played the accompaniment, which was a little intimidating. He was a genius, there’s no question of that. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I think he has more Grammies than any person ever. I think it’s like 30~ Grammies.
JH: I think I’ve heard that before. My bass teacher when I was in college, Michael Hovnanian, was in the Chicago Symphony when Solti was there, and I remember he went his house in London, and there was the Grammy room.
LH: Must have been plastered. I think it’s in the Guiness Book of Records, that he’s got more Grammies than anyone. In any case, it was a great thrill to be in that orchestra at that time, in Dallas. I was there 2 seasons, and had he stayed, I think I would still be there.
JH: After those 2 seasons, where did you go after that? Did you make the move into University teaching, or …?
LH: Well, I went back to get a Master’s b/c I thought it was prudent at the time to do that. And that’s when my teacher left. He wanted to become a Dean at another school, which he did. And I was just there, and since I had played in Dallas, they thought I had enough credentials to start, so I did. That’s how my career started.
JH: I’d like to let the listeners know that we’ve also got a former student of Mr. Hurst’s, John Grillo, on the line here, and I thought it would be interesting John ask some questions just about some of your thoughts about all aspects of the business and University teaching. I would just like to turn the reigns over to John for a little bit.
JG: Hello Mr. Hurst, how are you this evening?
LH: I’m good John. I know you’re good; I’ve been listening to some of your podcasts, so.
JG: Oh thank you so much. And Mr. Hurst, one thing about the accordion. Weren’t you on the Ed Sullivan Show at one point?
LH: Well it wasn’t called the Ed Sullivan Show. It dates me but it was called the Major Bose Show. And Ed Sullivan inherited that from Major Bose. That goes back to the 40’s. I was 6 years old when I played on that show. It was during the war years, and I could sing a little bit, so I sang and played, and of course, everyone went nuts when you hear a 6-year-old play “Coming in on a wing in a prayer,” and other such war songs.
JG: Hey Jason, we’re gonna have to get a video of that and put that on the blog site. So Mr. Hurst, when you first started teaching at Michigan, didn’t you also teach cello too?
LH: Yes, in fact, that was one of the reasons that I was able to get the job was b/c they had class cello for the music ed people. And so I had some cello background as part of the degree work I did as an undergrad there. And I also coauthored a book about elementary cello. So it was natural enough that I would do the class, and that’s how I started. I did a lot of beginning cello, so
JG: Now, so then, you switched with Stuart Sankey, right? When you went to Indiana, didn’t you guys do sort of a switch?
LH: Not really. That’s a popular misconception about what happened. Actually, what really happened was, Murray Gromurradner, who had been here for many years, decided to retire, and Murray called me and asked me if I had any interest in the position. And I told him at the time that I’m always interested in a good job. So that’s how it started, and it was his position that was open. So when I came to the interview, Stuart was still here and I was excited to think about the possibility that we’d be colleagues here, together. And I had known Stuart for a long time, so I was very excited about that. So once I had committed to the school and had decided to leave Michigan, Stuart applied for the Michigan job. And Stuart, for very personal reasons wanted to leave the IU campus. He was marrying a student and he thought it would be better to be off the IU campus and be at a new place, both for his prospective wife and for himself, and I could understand that. So he decided to apply for the Michigan job, so he did. And that was after I had committed here, so I really replaced Murray Grodner. And then of course, this was about 2 or 3 months later, then Stuart signed on with Michigan, and by that time, it was well into March or April. So the dean called me said, “Do you have any notion about how we can replace Stuart?” b/c it’s a large school and 2 bass teachers are really needed here, so. So I thought it would be nice to have someone with German bow background, and I had heard much about Bruce Bransby. At the time, I was doing the ASTA national solo competition and we were out in Anaheim , so that was the first time I met Bruce out there. We chatted about the possibility of him leaving the orchestra and coming to Bloomington, and ultimately it happened. So Bruce basically took Stuart Sankey’s job.
JG: Mr. Hurst, what was it like for you to just start out as a professor from the beginning? Could you explain that a little bit? Did it feel just natural, or intimidating at first? B/c you just got hired right from your Master’s to the University of Michigan, right?
LH: Right. Well, I knew the faculty so… don’t forget, a lot of those people had taught me, b/c they were still there, and the string dept was still there. So, in a way it was intimidating b/c I was still very young. But several of them helped me out in that respect, and it just started moving, and I didn’t have too much of a transition problem. My first teaching was done in Dallas. I had some teaching as an adjunct at Southern Methodist, which is standard, since most big city principles go in and the school of record usually has the principles teach and so forth. So I had some experience there. I wasn’t too enamored of teaching at first, but when I went back to Michigan, I had some really exciting students, and I think that’s the whole relation, so that’s kind of a symbiosis, since great students really make great teachers. And I had a number of students early on that really kept me honest.
JH: That must have been interesting to go from the adjunct back to Michigan then to a full time job. Was it a shock, the extra responsibilities that came with the full time job besides the teaching? I know that there’s a lot more that goes to having a position like you’ve had for these years besides teaching the bass.
LH: Well it evolved. At first of course I did a lot of playing. Great deal of recital work and that sort of a thing, b/c I had the time, and certainly you need to do that too. But as I got more and more involved with the teaching, I found that that also took a lot of time. Not just the hour lessons, but planning how students would progress and what to use next and finding out what is best to use for this and that. So, it was gradual. And of course I got involved in the school, b/c I liked school, I liked that the quality level was high. So it just became a whole ball of wax.
JH: Mr. Hurst, how would say your teaching method have evolved over the years?
LH: Well it sort of follows, I guess the business. I guess everybody understands that prior to about 1970, before the screens came up, that it was who you studied with that was everything, b/c your teacher had access to the conductors. And they could usually make a phone call to Reiner or Solti or whoever it was at the time. “I have a great student here. You’re going to be in town next week with the orchestra, would you have a minute to hear this kid?” And that’s the way it was done for years. Usually, you played for the conductor and for the concert master maybe, and the manager of the orchestra or some combination thereof. There was no committee. I think in the 60’s or 70’s, the foreman in the country just got pressed into the orchestra business, and it was way overdue, b/c I know at Michigan, there was an African-American kid there that was a great bass player and he couldn’t find work in this country. He ended up in Nova Scotia as principle there, b/c this country just wouldn’t even let him play an audition. So that was very, very necessary, and it had to happen, and I think that happened at the end of the 60’s or the early 70’s. But once that happened, the whole technique of teaching had to go with that b/c you couldn’t just run kids through method books any more. You had to get them ready to be competitive in the larger field of excerpts. I mean, when I played for the chair in Dallas, I played an hour and 45 minutes, with the conductor. I played 2 Brahms Symphonies, I played 3 Mozart Symphonies, and I’m talking about 1st and last movement and so forth. We had the time to do that. Of course, nothing was really perfect, but the conductor could get a real insight and overview of what I could do as a musician b/c of the time element. Of course, they can’t do that now. It’d be impossible to run an audition like that now, not to mention the fairness factor and all the rest. So it had to happen and it did, and once that happened, my whole approach had to change too. You had to get to technical things that were generic that could be applied to a lot of things, so.
JG: Did the people even play orchestral passages? Did people even practice excerpts?
LH: I think before that, the philosophy was sort of like the upper strings. Like violinists feel that if they can play the Brahms Violin Concerto or if they can play the Beethoven Violin Concerto, then most of the orchestra licks will take care of themselves. Whether or not you buy that philosophy is another matter. My teacher used to say if you can play 90% of the orchestra material at sight, everybody works on the other 10%. So the idea was that you had enough technique and talent to carry you a long way without having to get in on the orchestra licks. And when you look at the excerpts themselves, most of them are the most awkward and certainly not grateful parts of the literature in terms of technique. And I think the committees now want to know how you solve these problems. How have you come to grips with Mozart’s last movement of the 35th symphony, for instance. So I think that had to change, and when it changed, I think a lot of teachers had to change. Some did, and some didn’t, but it was created by the screens more than anything.
JH: Well thank you Mr. Hurst for that great interview, and thank you John for co-hosting the interview with me. It was a really, great experience to do, and you will be hearing more from Mr. Hurst in the future episodes.
Next up on the show, we’re going to feature some music from Daxun Zhang. He’s going to be playing the Beethoven Sonata for Cello and Piano 3rd movement, and I think you will really enjoy this recording. You can visit Daxun online at www.daxunzhang.com , and I’ll have a link to that on the show notes, so you can just go to doublebassblog.com or contrabassconversations.com to get that information.
Thanks Daxun, and we’ll be looking forward to hearing more from you on the podcast as well. We’ve got a little listener feedback to close out the show here today. David Ballom, from Northwestern University, actually a student of Daxun’s, wrote in and says “Hi Jason, Congratulations on being mentioned in the Double Bassist Magazine.” He just received his issue in the mail today, and he said that he really enjoyed the article. He also is appreciative of both the bass blog and the contrabass conversations and what they’ve been doing for the community, so thanks David, I really appreciate the feedback.
We also got a message from Christian Delingham, who wrote in and said he’s listened to 3 interviews from the show and he’s addicted, and that they’re very inspiring, and he’s also interested in seeing if double bassist Jeff Turner would be a guest. That would be possible for the show, and I think that would be great. Jeff Turner is the principle bass of the Pittsburgh Symphony, so I will definitely look into that, Christian. Thanks for the feedback.
All right, we’re going to get out of here for today. Once again, this has been contrabass conversations, your weekly podcasts about life in the low end of the spectrum. You can reach us at contrabassconversations.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, head on over to doublebassblog.com, T-shirts, hats, Coffee cups and more at cafepress.com/doublebass, visit our myspace page at myspace.com/cbcpodcast. And I will see you next week for more life in the low end of the spectrum.